An attorney for Public Regulation Commissioner Jerome Block Jr. and his father, Jerome Block Sr., says the duo probably won’t turn up in First Judicial District Court for their May 11 arraignments.
As is generally the case, the Blocks will “in all likelihood” file a written arraignment waiver in which they will plead “not guilty,” attorney Peter Schoenburg tells SFR.
Eight months ago, Attorney General Gary King promised that alleged campaign-finance violations by then-Public Regulation Commission candidate Jerome Block Jr. were a “front burner” issue for his office.
Now, the AG is holding the elected commissioner’s feet to the fire.
On April 8, Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Saavedra secured eight criminal indictments against Block Jr. (plus four more against his father, Jerome Block Sr.) after summoning 12 witnesses before a Santa Fe grand jury.
The charges against Block Jr. include two election-code violations, three counts of conspiracy, two counts of embezzlement and one count of tampering with evidence. Block Sr. is charged with two counts of conspiracy, one election code violation and one charge of tampering with evidence.
At least some of the accusations—including a $2,500 embezzlement charge—stem from Block Jr.’s claim that he had paid San Miguel County Clerk Paul Maez’ band, Wyld Country, to play an event the candidate later admitted never happened. Block Jr.’s campaign was funded with public dollars under New Mexico’s Voter Action Act.
“Our position is that there was no intent to defraud,” Schoenburg says. “This was a new statute that was poorly defined. The Secretary of State’s Office was having trouble interpreting what the statute meant and giving out, at times, conflicting advice on what had to be reported and what didn’t.”
The Secretary of State’s Office ultimately assigned Block Jr. more than $20,000 in administrative penalties for the Wyld Country affair and for a contribution his campaign made to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Block also is accused of a second embezzlement charge of $1,700, which sources in the Secretary of State’s Office say they did not know about until the indictments were filed.
So far, the Blocks’ attorneys have received copies of the recorded testimonies before the grand jury. Schoenburg says his office is having the tapes transcribed before it reviews the testimony.
When they do, key testimony will likely come from Special Agent Don Jochem, a former FBI agent who works in the Attorney General’s Government Accountability Division. Jochem has run the Block investigation for the AG since at least late October when he interviewed Las Vegas Optic Editor David Giuliani.
Jochem confirmed he is investigating the case but would not publicly disclose the details.
According to Giuliani, Jochem was most concerned with emails Block had sent first asserting the band had played, then admitting it hadn’t.
“Remember when the [daily newspapers] were reporting that the Attorney General was considering looking into it? [The AG team] came here shortly afterward,” Giuliani, who was also subpoenaed to authenticate the emails, tells SFR. “Jochem came over within a week before the election. He asked a bunch of questions, focusing mainly on the emails.”
However, in many cases, Block’s campaign spokesman Jonathan Valdez authored the emails. Indeed, when SFR first investigated the $2,500 contribution [Outtakes, Aug. 20, 2008: “Audit Right There”], Valdez told SFR via email: “Wyld Country is a well-known band and was paid for services rendered.”
Valdez and Maez were both summoned to court, but neither was charged in the case. The same goes for Jacob Martinez, Block’s campaign treasurer, who signed the $2,500 check to Maez. Martinez confirmed to SFR that he testified before the grand jury.
In addition, paid campaign employee Larry Lujan, who works for the PRC as a financial analyst, also received a subpoena. The PRC launched an internal inquiry into Lujan’s political activity after the Albuquerque Journal revealed he had made calls to Block during work hours using his state cell phone. PRC Administrative Services Director Juan Rios tells SFR Lujan repaid the PRC $38.34 for the “personal calls” and gave up 10.6 hours of vacation time.
The AG also summoned Deputy Secretary of State Don Francisco Trujillo, SOS Ethics Administrator Tracey Littrell and Wyld Country singer Simon Balkey to court.
Three other individuals, whose roles have yet to be identified, also appear on the witness list: Isaac Jaramillo, Briana Garcia and Paul Smith.
Correction: Paul Maez was incorrectly identified in the original version of this article on the grand jury indictments of Jerome Block Jr. and Sr. Maez is county clerk for San Miguel County. SFR regrets the error.